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To The Place That Changed My Life

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

The place that changed my life is a normal childhood experience for a lot of people. However, my experience was far from ordinary. My first time away from home for so long. Away from my mom, my bed, my sister, my friends, and all the things I was used to having around. I was weary of it at first. New people, new friends, a new bed, and an entirely new environment. I grew more comfortable as the weeks passed, but I eventually started to get bored. The same routine, day after day. Thus, I started to act out a lot more than I did before. It came to a point where home was the best place for me to be, so off I went, two weeks prematurely.

To say the least, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe what I was feeling. I was disappointed in myself, as were my parents, having spent so much money on something they thought would be so good for me. I knew in my head that I wanted to be there, but my words and actions told an entirely different story. I began to lash out at people who had my best interest at heart. I started refusing to get out of bed, on the account that “summer was for sleeping”. I was being hurtful to people who had done nothing but show me kindness. So, back home I went.

At first, I was excited to see my mom, dad, sister, and my friends. I was excited to sleep in my own bed and wake up whenever I pleased. As the days passed, and the summer was coming to a close, I knew I wanted to return next year, even though this year didn’t pan out as everyone (including me) had hoped. I was on a desperate mission to change for the better. I started high school that fall, and things were looking up for me. But as the school year went on, I started to get bullied, and badly.

I started coming home, avoiding my family, and headed straight to my room every day after school until the next morning, when it was time to do it all over again. I used sleep as an escape from the hell that was high school. But, the countdown to the summer didn’t stop.

In June, after finally finishing one of the most treacherous school years of my life, it was finally time. They agreed to let me come back. I happily packed my bags, got in the car, and headed off into the middle of nowhere for a month. I was excited, but my anxiety was kicking in with full force at the same time. My behavior was still a little rocky, but I made so much progress from the summer prior, I made it through until the day I had actually planned to depart.

That summer, I met some of the most amazing people, whom I still talk with to this day, even though they stopped going long before I did. Having people who weren’t afraid of me this time helped me settle in. From that summer on, I got better and better each year, and I didn’t waste any time starting the countdown to the next time as soon as I got home. This place became motivation to survive the rest of high school, knowing I had the most amazing thing waiting for me at the end of each school year.

Then, the worst thing I could've ever imagined, actually happened. A global pandemic took the world by storm. In 2020, my summer was ruined. I thought this would be the end of me. I was devastated. Instead, that summer I ended up working a lifeguard job at a local pool. I made decent money, but hated every second of it. 10 hour shifts, all by myself, with no washroom in sight. I was left feeling like I wasted my summer, and I was pretty disappointed in myself for not doing anything “fun”. The next year, the same thing happened. I was miserable all over again. But this time, I was offered a job on a TV set in Newfoundland for the summer. This meant moving halfway across the country, all alone at seventeen. I was too upset to be excited about it at first, but as moving day neared, I started to think, “this might be pretty cool”.

It wasn’t like what I’d seen in movies or anything, but working on a set was still exciting. I had never seen anything like it. It’s like watching a show, in real time. I made connections with some really awesome people, and I knew this was meant to be.

Though I was only supposed to be in Newfoundland for the summer, this did not end up being the case. I ended up getting an apartment, and making it my home again for the first time in five years. With my experience from the summer, I took on a position with a new local TV project, lasting until December of that year. Through that, I got into background acting. On that set, I met my best friend, and had none of this ever occurred, I never would’ve gotten the chance, and for that, I am grateful.

Some time after the show had finished shooting, I enrolled in an acting class. I loved it. I used to have terrible stage fright, to the point where I couldn’t participate in any school concerts or shows. This time was different. I performed in front of an audience for the first time in a decade. I was so proud of myself, and I believe my typical summer home gave me the confidence in myself to be able to do that, even though two years had gone by since I'd been.

I discovered so many things about myself I never would’ve dreamed existed without this place. I now know that I can perform for an audience. I can write. I’m really good at jigsaw puzzles. I can solve a Rubik’s Cube. I can make friends. I can even put up a tent in a pretty impressive time frame, and there are loads of different people I have to thank for that. But mostly, the people who didn’t give up on me. I’d had so many people and places give up on me over the course of my short life. Nobody knew what to do with me anymore. But they didn't quit. Not for a second. The dedication this place has shown to me is immeasurable. It is simply beyond words. Not even I have the written words to express my appreciation for the way they changed everything for me.

Since my first summer, I gave everything I had in me to prove I was not the same hurting little girl I was many years prior. I proved I had empathy and compassion for others. I proved I was a leader and responsible. I proved that I was trustworthy. And they saw it. Everybody did. This past summer, the first time things were almost normal again since the pandemic, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. A job, at the place that changed my life.

I knew this was meant for me, and I was ready. I accepted, packed my bags, got on a plane back to Ontario for the first time in a year, and headed off once again, 5 years since the first time I set foot on that gorgeous, action-packed, 1,000 acre property. This would be the longest time I had ever spent there. When all the staff arrived, we had a week to train and prepare. I’ll admit, it was daunting at first. I was filled with crippling self-doubt. Then I remembered: I had something incredibly special, that no one else did. I’ve been on the other side. I know what it’s like to not be a staff member. I can actually relate to these people. I kept telling myself those powerful words, and eventually I believed them, and I knew I was the right person for the job. I stopped doubting myself, and stepped into some pretty big shoes, but I had no fear that I could fill them.

I gave it my all. Yes, at times it was exhausting, and sometimes, I got overwhelmed, anxious, and frustrated with myself. But I got out of bed. Every. Damn. Day. For the first week, I cried. Every night. I didn’t think I knew how to do this. I thought I was going about this all wrong. I thought maybe I wasn’t actually ready. Maybe this was a mistake. I was worried they would think it was a mistake, hiring me. It took some trial and error, but I got there. I got comfortable. I started to have genuine fun. I was confident I knew what I was doing. I started to be excited about the job I had wanted with all my heart from day one. There were ups and downs, as is the case with anything, but I like to think there were more good days than bad. I formed so many close bonds with the people I worked with for two months non-stop. We still talk over the phone, and through social media, even though it’s not summertime anymore. I owe these people a lot. I could honestly say I owe them my life. I would not be the person I am today without them. There are a significant number of people I could list, so it’s better I thank them all here. You know who you are, and you have no idea how much you’ve changed my life for the better.

The countdown to summer is on (as it has been since I left, I have to admit), and I couldn’t be more excited (and nervous?) to see you all again.

Niamh Sullivan

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